Friday, December 5, 2014

Nonfiction RC #16

I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014

Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America - Frederick Lewis Allen

Journalist Frederick Lewis Allen wrote two respected books recording and evaluating events that he observed working as the editor for Harper’s, a magazine for thinking people. Only Yesterday covers the social changes of the 1920's, up to the financial panic of October and November, 1929. Since Yesterday is more concerned with the economic and political transformations of the 1930's.

During The Great Recession that we ourselves have witnessed .6% of banks (57) failed while in the Great Depression about 50% (about 9000) went under. The Great Recession had an unemployment rate of about 8.5, but by the end of 1931 the rate was about 25%, because factories had shut down or were running part time, putting ten million out of work. Allen has an eye for the telling quotation. In the late spring of 1932, in Chicago, a writer wrote: 

One vivid, gruesome moment of those dark days we shall never forget. We saw a crowd of some fifty men fighting over a barrel of garbage which had been set outside the back door of a restaurant. American citizens fighting for scraps of food like animals.

Allen focusses on Roosevelt and the New Deal. In summing up New Deal programs he notes "In addition to these conflicts of theory, there were numerous collisions between governmental organizations trying to do the same thing, between organizations trying to do opposite things, Between old policies being pursued as a matter of habit and new ones being introduced." Allen is no hardcore leftie, assuming Wall Street is merely evil.  But he shakes his head over business executives’ complacency. Allen notes that Wall Street agreed pretty well that the trouble was "lack of confidence" and seemed “pleased with itself.”

All describes well the connection FDR had with average Americans. The newspapers, ever ready to serve their corporate masters, loved running stories about boon-doggling. But ordinary people discounted such propaganda 

…not simply because some of them were getting money themselves and wanted the flow of cash to continue, but because they saw in the New Deal a badly needed angel of mercy which stood sincerely ready to help them. Above all they saw in Roosevelt himself a friend who did not back down to them, did not patronize them, but respected them as American citizens and wanted his administration to serve them. What did they care what the newspapers said? They knew what the McGarrettys in the next block, what the Nelsons on the next farm, had been up against, and what the Federal Government had done for them. They had heard Roosevelt's friend's voice themselves over the radio, again and again. They felt that they knew and they voted accordingly.

Readers into popular histories will like this well-written, easy to read book. So will people who recently watched Ken Burns’ doc about the Roosevelts.

No comments:

Post a Comment